When thinking and talking about potential candidates to join our team, I try to avoid using the term “culture fit”. When we say “culture fit”, we mean a whole wide range of different things, and not every person thinks of it the same way. While the term certainly includes legitimate concerns about a person’s soft skills, it also inevitably permits the inclusion of implicit biases and cultural conformity. I’m not sure when someone says “culture fit” if they’re talking about their work ethic and their open mind, or if they are simply talking about some perceived shared love for videogames and sci-fi movies.
Instead of using such a big catch-all phrase, I break it down into its constituent parts and evaluate each of them separately, thinking of them as professional values: Are they humble or are they an asshole? Can they handle our company’s fast pace? Can they gracefully give and receive blunt critique? Do they appreciate the value and role of design? Do they work very hard? Are they collaborative across disciplines? Are they curious to learn constantly?
Once you break it down like this, and discuss each soft skill one at a time, the only parts of “culture fit” left over tend to be your subconscious biases and bigotries. Frankly, I think the term “culture fit” was deliberately invented to allow bias and bigotry to be a deciding factor, to oppose diversity and to promote conformity.
My friend Russ Unger pointed me to the idea of a “culture add“, which I think is great. We should be looking for people who share our professional values, but who challenge the uniformity of our culture, who add something new and different. Not people who simply “fit”.